By Dale McGowan –
Not doing something is usually easier than doing it. Not taking out the trash burns fewer calories than taking out the trash. Forgetting to run a marathon, not getting a Ph.D. in physics, declining to write a novel — each of these non-doings is easier than doing any one of them.
So it should be easy to be an atheist, since all you have to do is not believe in God. But the bastards make it so hard.
The not-believing isn’t the problem. There are a thousand good reasons to realize that God was created by humans, not the other way around. But like not breathing or not stopping at a red light, the problem isn’t the act itself — it’s what happens next.
Tell your mother-in-law or boss or boyfriend that you don’t believe in God, and suddenly everything’s complicated. Eyes get shifty. Hands cover wallets. You’re quizzed on arcane bits of Sunday School knowledge by people who are positive you missed something. And you’re asked how you can be sure God doesn’t exist when everyone else but Richard Dawkins and his cat is absolutely sure He does.
Okay, you say. Fair questions. Time for some legwork.
You spend some time in church, if you haven’t already, which you probably have, a lot. When you tell a Christian friend it didn’t change anything, she says, “That’s because you didn’t go to my church.” So you go to her church, and it’s no different. A few cathedrals and temples and synagogues and gurdwaras later, you’re ready to stay home and read a book.
So you pick up the Bible and read it, cover to cover. You even take a good run at the Qur’an, and toe-dip the Talmud and the Bhagavad Gita. You read everything that has ever popped into the head of a theologian, only to learn that the arguments for believing in God have big names like Ontological, Cosmological, and Teleological. Most believers don’t know these reasons, and no one asks them to. But if you want to claim disbelief, you have to know them, and refute them, one by one by one by one.
You turn for help to the recent surge in atheist writing, only to find another long shelf of 600-page books written by, and apparently for, people with advanced degrees in Philosophy and Neuroscience, not to mention Sentence Structure and Footnoting. After a few years, you finally master the complex and nuanced arguments against the complex and nuanced arguments of the theologians.
At last, you feel you’ve earned the right to say you’re an atheist.
But when you track down those believers again, the ones who were sure you’d missed something, and share your newfound knowledge and devastating counterarguments, they shake their heads and smile: “It isn’t that kind of a question, silly. It’s not something you can get from books. It happens in your heart.”
And they wonder why we’re so cranky.
Most of the people I know and love are lazy Christians — people who believe in God without much thought or effort. Some go to church, some don’t. Few of them have spent much time reading the Bible, much less a Qur’an or the Vedas. I usually know more about the stated beliefs of their denominations than they do, and certainly more about other religions. Nobody asks them to list the Ten Commandments (well — not usually), or which two fabrics Leviticus 19 says not to combine, or even how they know God exists. They just have to believe he does, or at least say they do, and no one will ask them for more.
But why should belief be the lazy default? Shouldn’t disbelief be as easy a recliner to flop into? Shouldn’t a frosty can of Doubt Lager be at least as easy to reach as communion wine?
People are lazy. As long as belief is like falling off a log, and disbelief is like carving that log into a grandfather clock, atheism will remain a tiny little corner of humanity. If we want to join everybody else on the big soft cultural couch, there has to be room for the lazy atheist.
Dale McGowan is the author of several books including Atheism for Dummies. He lives in Atlanta.
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